A Cave Crawling Weekend at Pinnacles National Park

A Cave Crawling Weekend at Pinnacles National Park

It was two days before the long weekend in January when I found out we also got the coming Monday off. The forecast called for dry weather and I figured it was another great opportunity to see more of what Northern California has to offer. Roger had the great suggestion of driving a few hours south to Pinnacles National Park, which is the country’s newest national park, having just been designated in 2013. I immediately took a look at the Airbnb’s in its surrounding cities, but actually found that the hotels in the area were more competitively priced. Because I already had local plans on Saturday, we ended up driving down to Pinnacles early Sunday morning and spending the night in the small town of Hollister (no association with the clothing brand). Our weekend at Pinnacles National Park was incredibly worthwhile. Its vast network of deep and winding talus caves and towering volcanic formations are not to be missed for locals and California tourists alike.


Trip Basics 

  • Where: Pinnacles National Park is an hour and a half south of San Jose, California and an hour and a half east of Monterey, California.
  • Accommodations: We stayed at the Baymont Inn and Suites in Hollister, which is about 45 minutes north of the park’s visitor center. It was only $60 for the night on hotels.com and included a continental breakfast. I’d recommend the hotel.
  • Weather: I am amazed by the warmth each January in California. It was roughly 22C during our days there. I was able to hike in a tank top!
  • Price: The vehicle entrance fee is $25, which is good for 7 days. The park is free on holidays.

Itinerary: Day 1 (Entering from the Eastside Entrance)

  1. Arrived at the nearly full parking lot at Pinnacles National Park at 12:00PM.
  2. Shuttle from the Pinnacles Visitor Center to Bear Gulch Day Use Area – this was definitely a mistake on such a busy day. Because the shuttles only come every 20 minutes and can only carry a small amount of people per trip, we ended up waiting a whole 1.5 hours when we could’ve just walked up during the same amount of time.
  3. Bear Gulch Cave Trail – be sure to bring a headlamp! I highly recommend one over a flashlight because you’ll want to use your hands as you climb. These caves were super impressive and reward you with the beautiful Bear Gulch Reservoir at the end of the climb, which is a perfect spot for lunch.
  4. High Peaks to Bear Gulch Loop (strenuous) – what a spectacular hike for views across the park. You feel right below the clouds at the High Peaks portion.
  5. Caught the last shuttle at 5:30PM from the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.

To view the park and trails map click here.

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Bear Gulch Reservoir


Itinerary: Day 2 (Entering from the Westside Entrance)

  1. Parked at the overflow parking lot at 11:00AM and walked a short trail to the westside entrance.
  2. Balconies Cliffs-Cave Trail Loop (easy to moderate) – in my opinion, the caves on this side of the park were even more impressive than the last. Parts of the cave are definitely pitch black so you’ll definitely want to bring a headlamp here (and shoes you don’t mind getting wet!).
  3. Arrived back at the parking lot at 3:00PM

For an in-depth look at all of the Pinnacles National Park trails click here.

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

View from the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Trail Loop




A Weekend at Pinnacles National Park in Pictures…

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Making our way to the caves at Bear Gulch

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

A tunnel along Bear Gulch Cave Trail

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Inside the talus caves!

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Watching a guy climb

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

A very precarious rock!

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

A rock in the shape of a mitten

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

How I feel about cool rock formations

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Making our way up to High Peaks

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Had to crouch a bit here

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Very high at High Peaks

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

The start of day 2 at the westside entrance of Pinnacles National Park

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Does this count as bouldering?

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

Making our way down to the darkest of caves! We almost missed this small entrance!

weekend at Pinnacles National Park

The towering volcanic remains seen from the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Trail


Do you have a favorite national park? Or a question about Pinnacles? Let me know in the comments! 


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Comments ( 10 )

  1. ReplyRachel Catherine
    This place is so beautiful! I would love to visit it with my husband. We could have some fun hiking through there.
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      I highly recommend it! It's a great place to spend a weekend with your significant other!
  2. ReplyElizabeth O
    In addition to the magnificent views and expanse, it must have been quite the workout. I'd love to do that trail. :)
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      Over two days, it definitely was! Love doing hikes like this instead of going to the gym to get a good workout :P
  3. ReplyHolly Lasha
    Gorgeous. I want to visit here!!
  4. ReplyChasingGrace
    Ok...I am from Florida and we definitely don't have these views here, so thank you for sharing! Now I need to book a ticket to California because that looks breathtaking!!
    • ReplyAuthorEmma @ theweekendabroad.com
      I was just vacationing in Florida a few months ago! You have some great destinations there as well. Although I definitely recommend coming out to California for the hikes and views! Let me know if you need any recommendations :)
  5. ReplyRaina
    This is such a great itineary, I'd love to do it one day!

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